France joins clamour for extradition of Pinochet

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ON THE eve of the Law Lords hearing on whether General Augusto Pinochet can be sent to face trial in Spain, France sent a formal warrant to Britain for his arrest, adding to the legal proceedings launched against him in Britain and other European countries.

Simultaneously Baltasar Garzon, the Spanish judge whose request triggered the general's arrest in London on 16 October, submitted his formal extradition demand. It must be approved by the Spanish government, which has said it will not interfere with the judicial process, and sent here before the end of this month.

Expanding his earlier case, Judge Garzon accused General Pinochet of involvement in the death or disappearance of over 3,000 people, and of leading an "international criminal organisation" which conducted a campaign of genocide.

The developments will add to the groundswell of public demands across Europe that the former dictator be brought to justice to face charges of torture, murder and crimes against humanity during his 17-year regime, which began with the bloody overthrow of President Salvador Allende in 1973.The campaign was thrown off track last month when the High Court ruled that as a former head of state, General Pinochet enjoyed diplomatic immunity from the English judicial process.

Yesterday, however, in a last-ditch attempt to sway the Law Lords, alleged Pinochet victims led by Isabel Allende, daughter of the late Chilean President and now a socialist MP in the Santiago parliament, set out the accusations against the general. At an unofficial hearing at Westminster, Ms Allende charged that the military junta which seized power 25 years ago "intended to kill every single person they considered an enemy".

She was followed by Juan Pablo Letelier, whose father Orlando, defence minister in the Allende government, was killed by a car bomb in Washington in 1976, believed to have been planted by the Chilean secret police, DINA. "No immunity clause can allow this to pass by," he said. "Nothing authorises a head of state to commit international state terrorism."

But, however shocking the allegations against the 82-year old-general, they will not be raised directly before the Lords today, when they meet in committee as the highest court in the land to consider his case.

A panel of five Law Lords will consider submissions from barristers representing the appellant - in this case the Crown Prosecution Service - and General Pinochet, relating only as to whether the High Court was correct in ruling he enjoyed sovereign immunity.

Although that decision was handed down by Lord Chief Justice Bingham, legal experts said last night this was no guarantee it would be upheld by the Law Lords. But the likelihood was that it would, and General Pinochet will be free to return home. A summary ruling is expected quickly.

The decision will technically apply only to Judge Garzon's extradition request. In practice, however, it is likely to settle the fate of the rest.